A Story With Few Heroes

Have you ever wondered if biblical stories are actually true? Many people have wrestled with this question in one way or another. Perhaps if you have a more skeptical nature about yourself, you might wonder if someone tampered with the words of scripture, inserting or taking away stories to fit some certain agenda.

For questions like these, biblical scholars have studied the issues extensively in order to explore the true nature of scripture. For example, researchers will often compare ancient biblical fragments of passages with other copies. They will usually try and figure out the dates of ancient scrolls, hopefully getting as close as possible to an old event.

There is another interesting idea in biblical studies called the “criterion of embarrassment.” This phrase was coined by Catholic priest and scholar, John Meier. He basically argues that if there is something embarrassing about a certain story, chances are it would be true (otherwise, why would the author share something that might be humbling or shameful to them personally?). We find this many times throughout the bible. For instance, the disciples in the gospels are often clueless as to the nature and mission of Jesus. Even after they hear Jesus proclaim the values of God’s kingdom, they go on to argue with one another about who will be the greatest! (I imagine Jesus felt the same frustration teachers might feel, when their students don’t “get it!”). Many of Jesus’ followers also denied and abandoned him before the crucifixion.

These disciples went on to spread the church later in the New Testament, but stories of earlier “embarrassment” kind of tarnish their own reputation. The rationale is that these events must have occurred historically because why would a disciple include a self-deprecating story about how they once abandoned Jesus?

The story of Noah also has this aspect, too. We talked on Sunday how all the other flood stories throughout ancient history had prominent heroes in them. Noah’s story is radically different, however, because it never once mentions or praises Noah for his humanly strength and endurance. According to the world’s standards, Noah is just an average kind of guy. Instead, Noah simply “walked with God” and followed divine directions.

The wonderful truth of the bible is that there are truly few heroes in the story. Instead, we don’t have to worry about having it all together. We don’t even have to fret about making it all on our own. We don’t have to develop superhuman strength or become righteous all by ourselves. We don’t have to accomplish anything to earn God’s forgiveness.

Instead, at the center of our bible we find a promise from God: God will never leave us nor forsake us. This message comes to a climax with the coming of Jesus Christ. He ought to be our only hero.

You don’t have to be a hero for God to love you. God has already redeemed you and eagerly seeks a relationship with you. As a follower of Christ, we are called to abandon our pride and submit to the kingdom of God. When we do that and let go of all our human tendencies and sinful desires to be the superhero of our own life, we finally find freedom.

If you ask me, I’m truly grateful that the bible doesn’t have a lot of “heroes” in it, compared to other books. It means that I only have to rely on Jesus–our one and only true guide for life.

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Two Questions for Evangelism

To listen to Sunday’s sermon audio, click here.

As we saw yesterday, “pre-flood” Noah taught us that we need to lead a life that testifies to who God is.

Unfortunately, however, we sometimes shy away from telling our faith story to other people. Perhaps you might worry about rejection… I know I certainly have had this worry in the past before! Other times, we might be afraid to speak or share with someone about Jesus because we doubt our own skills and abilities. Maybe we convince ourselves to be silent because we don’t feel like we are good enough at communication.

But one of the most common “excuses” (or worries) I’ll hear about evangelism is this: “I don’t really have a story to tell.” It is a tragic, yet prevalent thought when it comes to the struggles Christians face. It is so easy to feel lukewarm in our faith, perfectly content in our own little bubble, rather than stepping outside of our comfort zone in order to share the love of Christ. So how can we get energized to share the good news?

The truth of the matter is that God has impacted every one of us in incredible ways. As you think about your own experiences with evangelism (or sharing your faith story with other people), consider the two following questions:

  1. Why am I a Christian?
  2. What difference has Jesus made in my life?

How would you personally answer those two questions? Think about that for a moment.

I believe so many Christian struggle with evangelism because they haven’t thought much on either of these questions. For instance, if we have been raised in the church our whole life, we might be so used to how things go for Sunday morning and bible studies that we haven’t taken ownership of our faith in God. And if we have been lukewarm in our faith (neither hot nor cold), then we don’t really identify any areas of our live that Jesus has made a difference.

So this week, ask yourself “Why am I a Christian?” Are you a Christian just because your parents or relatives were? Or is it something deeper? Are you a Christian because you’ve encountered the saving power of Jesus Christ, and there is absolutely nothing like that precious gift?

And also ask yourself “What difference has Jesus made in my life?” As Christians, our relationship with Christ ought to be everything. Think about how Jesus has impacted you. Has Jesus changed you? Did Jesus help you during a tough time in life? Did Jesus help you develop righteous character over time?

I truly think that if we take time to reflect and answer on questions like these, then evangelism just comes naturally. In recognizing the goodness and grace of God, we in turn develop a passion for sharing that with others.

A Personal Story on Spiritual Warfare

To listen to Sunday’s sermon audio, click here.

Today on the church blog, here’s a personal experience from my own life about spiritual warfare!

As I’ve preached on before, for the summer of 2009 I worked with a mission organization in Qwa Qwa, South Africa. This experience really opened my eyes to things like the power of prayer, importance of missions, and spiritual warfare.

We stayed on a game preserve in a rural area and traveled to local towns and cities from there. It was absolutely gorgeous scenery. Here are a few photos of our “home base.”

As you can see, South Africa is such a beautiful country.

One issue I quickly noticed, however, was an occasional sense of feeling isolated. We were quite far from town, so this had an interesting psychological effect on us at times. This was only compounded by what we saw while working out in the towns and cities. We might see extreme poverty one morning, then have an odd encounter with a traditional sangoma (or medicine man) in the afternoon, and then in the evening be miles away from others in total darkness and isolation.

I remember suddenly waking up some nights (this was very odd because we were always exhausted from busy workdays). One time in particular, I remember feeling a disturbing, eerie sense of darkness in the middle of the night. I felt like someone (or something) was inside our cabin, but nothing was visible. I quickly heard a slamming sound, too, and saw that one of our windows had flung open and was rattling against the wall. This was real spooky, considering we locked these windows shut before bed. My heart began to beat faster and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I had no idea what was going on.

But during this frightening experience that felt exactly like a horror movie, I quickly resolved to pray and recite scripture. Silently praying the name Jesus over and over brought about an indescribable sense of comfort to me. It also gave me a sense of authority, too, where the presence of evil stood absolutely no chance. I felt as though I were slowly gaining the “upper-hand” and restoring peace to this unseen and quiet conflict. Eventually, I fell back asleep with a confident sense of peace after this bad presence had totally disappeared.

I’ve also had a couple friends experience this kind of thing, too. One was traveling alone and saw what he believed to be a small demon in his hotel room. Again, saying the name Jesus gave him courage, strength, and comfort. Another friend of mine worked in Zambia as a missionary for a time, and would hear the sound of radio static at night. And again, saying the name Jesus Christ resolved the terrifying encounter.

I share my own story and these others to emphasize that we don’t ever have to worry or fear spiritual warfare. With the strength of God, nothing will ever overcome you. Darkness will never triumph over the light of Jesus Christ. This week, remember the words of Paul in Ephesians 6. May these verses guide you to stand firmly for Jesus:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Modern Day Slaves

Slavery might sound like an issue from past history. But the issues we grappled with in Ephesians yesterday are still important to address one day for another reason: There are more slaves right now (40-70 million) than have ever existed in the past.

This statistic might sound shocking to most people. But consider the following real-life scenarios:

  • Forced Labor: A young child in India is placed into a shady adoption agency. The staff then sell him to a sweatshop owner who forces him to make clothing without pay.
  • Sex Trafficking: A woman from Guatemala travels to Los Angeles under the pretense that she will receive a housekeeping job at a hotel. Upon arrival, she is captured and forced into prostitution.
  • Child Sex Trafficking: A runaway teenage girl hitchhikes across the country to New York City. A pimp seduces her and forces her to hand over all profits in a child prostitution ring.
  • Debt Bondage: A young man from Ethiopia travels to the United States with a valid visa and travel documents. A friendly stranger offers him a job as a waiter in a restaurant, but steals all his travel papers. The stranger then threatens to turn the young man over to authorities and track down his family, unless he agrees to work for a low wage.

As you might guess, these issues don’t just happen in foreign countries or big metropolitan cities. They also plague states like Arkansas, too. Every couple of weeks, you might read or see news about human trafficking. From police discovering that traffickers use social media apps, to former judges in neighboring states pleading guilty to running sex trafficking rings, this is an extremely troubling and common problem.

So what can we do about this problem as Christians?

Jesus is clear in the gospels that he came to proclaim release to the captives. God’s kingdom is all about liberating people. And as disciples, we have the opportunity to make a difference in how we live.

There are countless “what to do” articles online, from Christian-based ones, to even the US Department of State. In addition to praying for the problems of our world, here are a few highlights of things you can do about the problem of human trafficking:

  • Educate yourself– Many people are ignorant of how widespread this problem is. Consider doing some personal research about your own “slavery footprint.”
  • Be on the lookout– If you notice anything suspicious while at a restaurant, salon, or hotel, then report it to authorities. The national hotline for human trafficking is 1-888-373-7888. Many police departments have also started task forces in order to address human trafficking.
  • Stop using pornography– The porn industry is one of the major drivers of sex trafficking. Many of the individuals involved might be coerced into this trade. I’ve preached and written before about this issue. The majority of explicit content on the internet involves abuse. There are also strong links between the porn industry and human trafficking.
  • Be aware of what you buy– The problem of human trafficking is only exacerbated by our consumerism and materialism. We want cheap goods and services, and don’t always pay attention to what may happen behind the scenes. We ought to work to ensure everything we consume is done so in an ethical way, from the hamburgers we eat to handbags we buy. Make sure employees and staff you encounter aren’t being abused or mistreated.
  • Get involved in local missions– Human trafficking sounds like such a massive problem. It is easy to feel helpless or even apathetic. But one concrete step you can take to fight against this evil is to get involved in various ministries that help people. Homeless shelters help people stay off the street (where they would otherwise be more vulnerable to sex and labor traffickers). Educational programs teach children and youth that they have dignity and worth. Food banks and pantries provide basic nutritional needs and hope, which can mean the world to someone who is considering running away from home. The list goes on and on.

Deepening Your Marriage Covenant

As we saw yesterday, divorce is a very common thing in our world. Self-reported reasons for divorce include the following:

  • Infidelity
  • Financial problems/disagreements
  • Constant arguing
  • Unrealistic/unarticulated expectations
  • Lack of physical intimacy
  • Abuse

Many of these issues really deal with one major issue in all relationships: communication. Regardless of whether you’re married or not, this one thing can truly sour a friendship, strain a marriage, or even lead to ugly bitterness.

You may have heard of this idea in Christian pop-psychology… one helpful idea is something called the five love languages. These different practices and ways to communicate can truly make the difference with any relationship, especially with your husband or wife.

A fellow named Gary Chapman popularized this idea in the 1990s. Some have criticized his work for being too simplistic, but I still think it can be a helpful tool. Chapman argued that human beings basically have five different ways in which we express and receive love. We “speak” these different love languages by how we act. We also receive love based on who we are as a person. One language is not inherently better than the other, but it is important to be aware if you are different from your partner. Here’s how Chapman describes the five languages:

  • Words of Affirmation– Compliments and encouragement really speak volumes.
  • Physical Touch– Focusing on things like hugging, kissing, or other signs of physical intimacy.
  • Receiving Gifts– Presents during holidays or special times show love to a spouse.
  • Quality Time– Valuing making time to “hang out” and develop that lifelong friendship.
  • Acts of Service– Doing household chores or work can really impact someone.

(As a brief side note: here’s a link to an online quiz about which love languages you might have… check it out!)

Tragically, many marriage troubles stem from lack of communication about what “love language” each person speaks. Here are a couple of hypothetical examples of possible disconnects…

  • Susie really likes receiving gifts, but her husband Mark happens to forget to buy flowers on their anniversary. Susie interprets this as Mark not caring about this special occasion.
  • If John prizes words of affirmation and encouragement after a tough day, and his wife Brittney is short with him instead of affirming, chances are John will not feel valued whatsoever. (This is particularly a huge issue with things like verbal abuse!)
  • Rachel enjoys the quality time with her spouse during a date night of dinner and a movie. But her husband, Peter, always wants to go fishing with friends for every bit of his free time. From Rachel’s perspective, Peter seems to love and appreciate his friends more than her by how he allots his time!
  • Nick loves nothing more than cuddling up on the couch after a long day with his wife, Danielle. But if she is busy running around tending to other matters, Nick would feel neglected and unloved.

We all speak different love languages depending on our personalities. For example, I know that my wife really appreciates acts of service. So after a day of work, nothing says “I love you” to her more than coming home to a clean house or a nice meal for dinner. Flowers, chocolates, and compliments might be nice, but I know her primary expression of love is good deeds. From balancing a budget and keeping track of bills, to vacuuming and folding laundry, I know that I can show my wife love by doing these acts of service.

One way to deepen your marriage covenant is to genuinely communicate with one another. Be aware of how you express and receive love. Have those kinds of conversations. Get to know your husband or wife more.

Jesus taught us the core meaning of marriage, of a man leaving his mother and father, and being united with his wife. Being “one” with one another isn’t just a figure of speech for physical intimacy. It also means being one in things like communication, understanding, and purpose.

God of Second Chances

As we saw yesterday, there are quite a few hidden layers to Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15. Instead of testing her faith, I firmly believe Jesus was testing the morality of his disciples and whether or not they would “live out” the teachings he gave them before this episode.

Map of ancient world, including idol statues of the Canaanite god Baal

One other hidden message of this episode has to do with the woman’s ethnic background. You might recall words like Canaanite or Canaan from reading the Old Testament. Here’s a bit of background on this people group and region:

  • According to Genesis, Ham received a curse for looking upon Noah (his father) while Noah was naked. Ham’s son, Canaan, would also receive the curse, too. The descendants of Noah then scatter across the world. According to scripture, Canaanites settled near the land of Jordan.
  • “Canaanite” is a broad term including various peoples who lived in this area. It also included Amorites, Hittites, and so on.
  • After a few generations on Shem’s side of the family (another son of Noah) God promises Abraham the land of Canaan, which was to the west along the coastline, next to Jordan.
  • It is unclear how distinct these people groups truly were. In some cases, God works explicitly through people in Canaan! Other famous leaders took Canaanite spouses. However, in a theological sense, one major distinguishing factor of Canaanites is worship of false gods like Baal.
  • Many biblical books deal with preparing for and eventually taking the land of Canaan through warfare. The Israelites conquered the region and established a kingdom. The kingdom eventually split and was conquered by other nations before the time of Jesus.

That might sound like a lot of biblical names and random facts, but it is all important to remember to set the stage for how the bible describes the relationship between Israel and Canaan. For many generations, the two people groups were enemies of one another. So in the gospels, people in Jesus’ culture did not get along with people like the Canaanite woman.

But one of the beautiful things about the bible is that throughout the grand story of scripture, God works to bring about salvation to all different kinds of people. We don’t just see this in the New Testament. There are key passages and stories in the Old Testament, too. For instance, the story of Ruth is about a faithful Moabite woman. Moabites and Israelites didn’t exactly get along, either! Even in Genesis it briefly talks about how Moabites were descendants of incest from Lot and his daughters. Yet this story teaches us that God is working to save people who might be outsiders. That’s exactly what God’s kingdom is all about–bringing in the poor, sick, and lost. God’s family gradually gets bigger over time.

So one of the truly remarkable things about Matthew 15 is that even though Jesus spoke as any Israelite would of Canaanites as part of the test, this unnamed woman ends up being one of the heroes of the story. She continued to pursue Jesus even after the disciples refused to help her. God worked in her life, and she responded to God.

So let’s bring this message to today. Who are the Canaanites in your life? Who are the people you haven’t gotten along with? With whom have you fought? Who might even be your enemy?

You might think someone in your life is “too fare gone.” You might think that one relative is just utterly hopeless. You might think you’re destined to always feud with that one particular coworker.

But the biblical story teaches us that God is always willing to work in the lives of other people. If God can work in the life of this faithful Canaanite woman, God can give anyone a second chance.

A Christ-Minded 4th

Civic holidays are arguably the most popular in our culture, so it is difficult for Christians to participate in them without falling prey to the ways of the world. For instance, the holiday season of Christmas is utterly saturated with consumerism. We (as a whole) tend to be more concerned about buying the newest gadget or toy than reflecting on God’s humble birth!

The same is also true for cultural holidays like July 4th. We might feel an appreciation for things like freedom, rights, and national history… But how do we celebrate days like today without idolizing human creations like a country, flag, or heritage?

One thing to keep in mind about July 4th is that being a Christian and being an American can sometimes be two completely different things. For example, our society often defines the “American dream” in materialistic terms, such as making more money than your parents, buying a house, getting a nice car, and so on. While it is not inherently bad to own things, this directly contrasts with biblical warnings against greed and selfishness. Instead of being so attached to money and personal prosperity, Jesus himself calls us to give our whole allegiance to God’s kingdom. Indeed the kingdom of God is remarkably different from the kingdoms of this world!

The same difference is also apparent with how we define the word “freedom”–such a popular word this time of summer. Our world thinks freedom is one of the highest ideals, and in many cases, worth dying for. We usually understand it to mean the ability to do whatever we want and to create the kind of life we desire. But in a Christian sense, freedom itself means something radically different than 21st century America would have you believe. Consider Paul’s words on freedom from Galatians 5:

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

A couple of points to highlight…

  1. The most important freedom we could ever have is from Jesus Christ. He gives us freedom from sin and death. All other freedoms in this world pale in comparison to what Jesus did for us!
  2. Because we have Godly freedom, we should never use that freedom to do whatever we want or even define ourselves. We humans tend to believe freedom is “indulging the flesh”–saying, doing, or acting however we want.
  3. We should always use our freedom to serve others. Christian freedom actually means Christian service. We serve and love others with our newfound blessing in God’s kingdom.

On this July 4th holiday, you might be tempted to worship the freedoms we have in our culture today. And yes, it is absolutely wonderful to be able to speak your mind, practice your faith, and participate in society. And it also is fine to enjoy a cookout or watch some fireworks (although, if you have pet dogs and cats like I do, they will probably think the world is about to end!).

But in the broader sense, we need to keep all those other freedoms in their proper place. The freedom that truly matters most was given to us 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ gave himself up for us on the cross. And regardless of whatever kind of freedom you celebrate today, make sure to use that to serve and love other people.

A Wayward Child

There are many examples of how we relate to God all throughout scripture. Perhaps you’ve heard of these common ones:

  • God is the potter, we are the clay– Jeremiah 18 speaks of this, where God continually works to shape and mold us. Through a relationship with God, God makes us new and forms us into a beautiful creation.
  • God is the shepherd, we are sheep– Most famously we read about this in Psalm 23. God is the one who protects and guides us. We are like sheep–truly unintelligent and helpless animals!–in God’s kingdom.
  • We are friends with God– In John 15, Jesus speaks intimately about how God truly desires to know us, just like a best friend. The good news is that we have a better friend than we could ever ask for with God!
  • God is a vine, we are the branches– Elsewhere in John 15, Jesus told us that if we abide in God, that is like we are connected to the broader “plant” where we derive our life and existence through the true vine.

I mention these metaphors because it is helpful for us to have illustrations for our faith. Instead of simply saying “obey and follow me” God gives us a broader, deeper picture for how we can pursue this divine relationship.

Hosea famously used a metaphor of marriage to speak about our relationship with God. Just as Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea, we too are unfaithful to God (our partner, so to speak).

I didn’t have enough time on Sunday, but the marriage metaphor doesn’t end there. As the book of Hosea progresses, God actually switches up the metaphor. Instead of being bogged down in the heartbreak of marriage infidelity, God begins to speak through Hosea about how Israel is like a wayward child. This personally gives me a message of hope, since children can be molded and shaped into righteous living. Consider these insightful verses from chapter 11:

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.

God gives us such a wonderful, hopeful metaphor. What we truly need, in light of Hosea, is the guidance of our heavenly parent.


Recently I attended a group meeting with the prison ministry at Tucker. It was early on a Saturday, (so I was feeling rather drowsy), but I was quickly blessed when several inmates shared testimonies to the group.

One man in his 50s talked about a blessing he recently received. He had been wrapped up in a life of crime, which soon landed him in the Tucker Unit. He never really provided a good example for his daughter and grandchild, and she unfortunately became addicted to heroin. After coming to prison, this man discovered the love of Christ. Despite being discouraged at his family turmoil, he continued to pray for his wayward child.

On Saturday, he shared with us the wonderful news that his daughter had finally completed rehab, was staying sober, and planned to visit him in a couple of Saturdays with his grandchild. After 15 years of brokenness, things finally were made new through the power of God’s love.

You might feel like you are a wayward child in God’s family. Remember that God will neither leave nor forsake you. We like to run off on our own, but God’s love is stronger if we would only embrace it.

How I’ve Recently Felt God’s Presence

On the blog this week I thought I’d share some meaningful ways in which I have recently experienced the presence of God. Yesterday we explored how in a roundabout way, the story of Uzzah in 2 Samuel does give us a message of hope. We can experience God’s presence through Christ living in our hearts.

There have been countless moments in life I’ve known God to be close. I’ll highlight a few encounters, songs, and other things that have recently impacted me from the past few weeks!


The Great Outdoors

I mentioned that I was on vacation to Banff National Park in Canada last week. We filled our days with many outdoor activities like hiking, rafting, and climbing. As we saw all the glaciers, mountains, rivers, and wildlife, it was undeniable how incredible God is. Our world may be broken, but we can still see God’s fingerprints in the order and majesty of creation! So recently, nature has obviously been an impactful way I’ve felt God’s presence. Here are a few photos from our adventure:

 


“Kingsfold” Hymn Tune

While I was at a conference in Texas last month, one of the hymns we sung for a clergy memorial service was “Come Let Us Join Our Friends Above” to the tune of Kingsfold. (If you aren’t musically-inclined, many of our hymns and songs can be sung to different tunes!). This classic organ tune was absolutely stunning as we remembered several pastors and their spouses who had died within the past year. During this service, I remember feeling the comforting presence of God as we reflected on these words by Charles Wesley:

Our spirits too shall quickly join,
like theirs with glory crowned,
and shout to see our Captain’s sign,
to hear this trumpet sound.
O that we now might grasp our Guide!
O that the word were given!
Come, Lord of Hosts, the waves divide,
and land us all in heaven.

Death is a tough thing to face, but with our eyes fixed upon Christ–our Captain and Guide–we too can experience heaven, just like our loved ones do now.


“So Will I” by Hillsong United

This is a rather long song, but it definitely touches me every time I hear it. Hillsong United is one of my favorite Christian bands, and they capture the wonders of the world around us, from billions of galaxies and a world filled with creatures, to Jesus dying for our sins.

God of salvation
You chased down my heart
Through all of my failure and pride
On a hill You created
The light of the world
Abandoned in darkness to die

And as You speak
A hundred billion failures disappear
Where You lost Your life so I could find it here
If You left the grave behind You so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve done
Every part designed in a work of art called love
If You gladly chose surrender so will I


“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley

I got ordained last month (yippee!), and one of the songs we sung was another classic Wesleyan hymn. Singing this as we entered the sanctuary really captured the joy of the evening… and it also reminded me of the calling I have as a pastor to invite others to experience that same love of Christ!

Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down;
fix in us thy humble dwelling;
all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation;
enter every trembling heart.


So as you think about God’s presence this week, consider all the ways God might speak to you. Maybe it is through a song or hymn you heard on the radio or at church. Maybe it could be reading a bible passage during a time of need. Maybe it could be through the fellowship of Christian friends. Regardless of how your experiences go, remember to always cherish those encounters with God!

Overcoming Hopelessness

I briefly touched on Saul’s death yesterday during the sermon. Saul gradually entered into a downward spiral, with episodes like the witch of Endor, trying to kill David, and so on. At the very end of 1 Samuel, Saul kills himself instead of surrendering to the Philistines during battle:

The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically. Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.” But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day. (1 Samuel 31:3-6)

One of the important practices of the Christian faith is to continually relate the words of the bible to what we experience in the world around us.

So today as I personally reflect on Saul’s gruesome death, I cannot help but think of the tragic news from this past week. Kate Spade, a fashion designer, and Anthony Bourdain, a food/travel television personality, both committed suicide. When we read about these kinds of stories, we often feel a mixture of sadness, guilt, worry, anxiety, and other emotions. We might think how in retrospect, we should have seen warning signs. We also reflect on the tension of having a seemingly put-together public life, while internally struggling with personal darkness. Things like depression are not limited to one particular social group of class. People from all different walks of life might face it.

Perhaps we think to ourselves, Is there someone in my life who might feel that hopeless? What can I do about that?

Yesterday I preached about how Saul is a cautionary tale to us regarding the spiritual realm and letting go of loss and grief. Saul also shows us the tragedy of feeling so hopeless like there is no way out.

About 45,000 Americans die by suicide each year. Half a million people also are treated for self-inflicted injuries each year, too, which are often connected to failed suicide attempts. And tragically, rates continue to rise overall. Here are some other facts about this epidemic:

  • The elderly and those 45-54 years of age are often among the most vulnerable demographic.
  • Men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women.
  • Firearm usage accounts for half of suicides.
  • 1/3 of suicides occur while under the influence of drugs of alcohol.
  • Suicide is often an impulsive act. In other words, talking through a problem or crisis greatly decreases the likelihood of suicide (that’s why helpline phone numbers are often life-saving!).

The reality is that the same struggles Saul faced still plague us today, too.

It might feel like life is too much to bear. It might feel like you are all alone. It might even feel like your in Saul’s shoes with enemies or troubles surrounding you, and that there is no way out.

But the truth of the matter is that God will never forsake us. God is always with you, no matter how hopeless you might feel. We are all created in God’s image–that is something that nobody could ever take away. You have unsurpassable worth. Your life has meaning and a purpose. And more than anything, God wants us to know and experience the precious love of Jesus.


Resources:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

Veterans Crisis Line- 1-800-273-8255 +1

Arkansas Department of Health Suicide Prevention Initiative (non-Crisis Center, educational programs)- 501-683-0707